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Giving families a Head Start: Federally funded education center in Wilmore works to prepare the whole family for school 

By BOBBIE CURD

bjcurd@gmail.com 

Although Jessamine County Head Start has been around for decades in Wilmore, those who work there say many still aren’t aware of the services it offers.  

“I think not many know about us because we don’t do a lot of advertisement,” says Georgia Sutton. She’s been a lead teacher there for 26 years. 

Head Start is a preschool program free to families of Jessamine County. It’s income-based but, Sutton says, they do take a percentage of children who come from families over the low-income requirement. So, she says interested families should still fill out a registration form even if they think they don’t meet the income cut-off, and there’s also a waiting list the school uses when children are taken out due to relocation, etc. 

Head Start is a child development program funded by Blue Grass Community Action Partnership. It serves three- and four-year-old children from low-income households, with each center licensed through the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, Office of the Inspector general and Division of Regulated Child Care, and it’s nationally accredited. 

“We focus on the whole family,” Sutton says. They work to help families prepare children for school and link them up to any avenues of assistance they may need. 

“Last year, we paid for some parents to go back to school and get their child development associate credential. It’s all about the whole family, not just the kids.” 

And although the center has always focused on family involvement, COVID definitely put a damper on those attempts over the last year and a half, Sutton says, “but we’re hoping to be back to normal soon. We encourage families to come into the center — they can volunteer to read or do crafts with the kids. They can come observe, see what their kids are doing.” 

The center also provides health screenings, and offers support to those families who don’t have insurance by giving vouchers to pay for dental or vision services needed, for example. 

If any children are in need of special services, the center also provides screenings, with specialists who come from public schools to perform speech and language services for the kids. 

Sutton, herself, started out as a Head Start parent “a long time ago — my ‘baby’ is 30 now,” she says. When she began working there, she thought, “they’re not going to hire me, I’m not a teacher and I only had a high school diploma.” 

Now, Sutton has achieved her bachelor’s in child development and family relations. “They will help you attain the goals you have, I’m very grateful,” she says. 

“I brought my daughter here because she was a real clinger. I thought when she goes to kindergarten, she’s going to have a hard time breaking away from me …” so she checked on public preschool, but didn’t qualify for it. 

“I was a single mom with two kids, and I was in a very abusive relationship. When we didn’t qualify for public preschool, they gave me the number to Head Start, and here I am ….” 

Sutton says by Head Start supporting her to go back to school and gain further training, “they helped me get out of that situation and continue on to school. And I’ve gone on and one and on!” 

She can relate to parents on a personal level who are going through a tough time. “I understand things may be really bad, and it feels good to be able to tell them you don’t have to worry. I have been there, I will help you.” 

And because the center is federally funded, it costs parents nothing to take their children there. They offer field trips, family and literacy nights, story times … all free of charge. 

Heather Baker, the site supervisor for Jessamine County Head Start, says a new program is also in the works for the center. “We will be opening a 0 to 3 age classroom for migrant children.” She says this program has been up and running for a while in Lexington. 

Baker explains the migrant program is a smaller classroom of only eight children, all from migrant families who have moved to the area for work. “Simply to help these families for their children to have a place to go during the day while they work,” she says, when oftentimes, young children may be forced to go to work with their parents due to a lack of available childcare. 

“When it’s fully-functional — fingers-crossed it will be this year, but it may be next — we’ll cater to these children and their families.” To do that, Baker says they will have bilingual employees in order to help create a bond of trust with the families, and have the ability to communicate with them in order to provide other outside services their children or families may need. 

“They’re in a completely foreign country where everyone speaks a different language, so we’re trying to help connect with them so that they trust us and get their kids into school,” she says.  

Although Jessamine County Head Start in Wilmore recently had an open house for registrations, they do have a few spots still open, Sutton says. 

To find out more about Head Start, visit bluegrasscommunityaction.org, or follow Jessamine County Head Start on Facebook.